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Baby Carrier Safety

Vigilance is Required When Using a Baby Carrier

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CPSC Sling Warning

This graphic, which was part of a CPSC warning on baby slings, shows safe and unsafe positions for baby in a soft carrier.

Photo courtesy of CPSC.gov.
You may have heard about CPSC's baby sling warning in 2010. Rumors and misinformation surrounded that warning, and some parents believed that all baby slings were recalled. That's not the case, though, and it's possible to use a baby sling or other baby carrier safely. You just need to follow a few baby carrier safety tips, and be aware of the potential risks.

Bag-Style Baby Carriers

The bag-style baby carrier was at the heart of the sling warning from CPSC. These carriers have a fabric pouch for baby, usually with elasticized top rails, and a top shoulder strap that is often adjustable. The shape of these baby carriers makes it easy for a baby's face to be pressed against the inside of the sling, which makes it hard to breathe. The shape of the bottom of the carrier also can force baby into a C position with chin to chest, which also makes it hard to breathe. The tall sides of the carrier reduce fresh air flow, and, on many bag-style carriers, the top strap doesn't adjust enough to bring baby up high enough. Steer clear of this baby carrier style.

Baby Carrier Safety Standards

At this time, there are no mandatory federal safety standards for slings and baby carriers. Those standards are coming soon, as part of a sweeping federal change in the consumer product safety laws. Several baby products, such as cribs, bath seats and play yards, have already received new standards as part of the changes. Until the new baby carrier safety standards are put into place, though, it's up to you to check and double check your baby carrier for safety.

Fasteners & Seams

Any manufacturer can have a recall, whether they're big or small. One baby carrier company had to recall a soft structured carrier because of buckles that could un-latch during use. Another sling manufacturer once used metal rings that were too thin and not sturdy enough to bear baby's weight, and had to issue a recall for that problem. Problems with the design or parts of the baby carrier cause the most problems for baby-wearing parents.

When you purchase a baby carrier, whether from a well-known company or a craft mom in your town, check the buckles, rings, seams and other attachments. Can you pull on them without causing damage? Do the seams look like they will tear out before the baby gets to the maximum weight limit? If it's a ring sling, check for sturdy one-piece rings versus rings that have a seam in them.

The check-over shouldn't stop there, though. Every time you use your baby carrier, give it a quick check to make sure something hasn't worn out or become damaged. Tears in the fabric, seams that are starting to unravel, or buckles that are cracked may not hold your baby safely.

Baby Carrier Recalls

It's a good idea to keep an eye on the CPSC recall list so you know if your new baby carrier is included in any recalls. If you're buying a used baby carrier, or you get one on loan from a friend, you should check that recall list, as well. Be aware that some work-at-home moms who make baby carriers may not be officially set up as a business and may not even know that they need to report problems to CPSC.

Read the Manual

As with any consumer product, baby carriers should be used according to the instructions to avoid harm. Lots of baby carrier companies include a great instruction book with photos of babywearing holds and how to accomplish them with that carrier. Most carriers also have a maximum weight, and some have a minimum weight or developmental milestones that should be met before using it. It's important to follow all of these instructions! If baby is too heavy, the carrier could fail and cause a fall. Some carriers may not be suitable for low-birth-weight babies, and some aren't to be used with newborns at all. You wouldn't want a tiny newborn in a large backpack carrier where you can't keep an eye on him, for example. A newborn is better suited to a wrap or soft structured front carrier.

Breathing & Position

A baby's head should be supported, but her chin should not be pressed to her chest because that position can compromise her airway. The best positioning advice I've heard is that baby should be visible and kissable. Your baby's face shouldn't be buried inside the carrier. It should be up where you can see it and keep an eye on breathing. The baby should be up on your chest, not slumped down near your waist. It may take practice to get the hang of proper positioning, but it is key to safe baby carrier use.

Watch Where You're Going!

Be extra careful when you're carrying your baby in a sling or other carrier. Watch for sharp objects that you could bump or that baby could grab. Hot items, such as stoves or coffee, are also within baby's reach while riding in a carrier. Remember that your balance may be a little off when you're wearing your baby. Take extra care when using the stairs or walking on slick or uneven ground.

Enjoy It!

Babywearing can be a lot of fun. Having your baby close for snuggles, laughs and new experiences brings joy for both of you and makes for great bonding time. Lots of parents become a bit carrier-obsessed, trying out new carrier styles and building a closet of babywearing options. Nearly any baby carrier can be used safely for your baby as long as you follow these basic baby carrier safety tips.

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